NO-SHOWS LEAVE DENTAL PATIENTS WAITING
REVEALED: The unthinking people who are making life painful for hundreds of others
By BIANCA CLARE
JILL TUNLEY is normally a patient woman, but today she is sick of waiting.
The 46-year-old Repton resident has been living in pain while waiting since January for a denture realignment for her top teeth from the public dental clinic at Coffs Harbour.
And the Coffs Coast Advocate has learned that a large group of unthinking people are stopping Jill and others in genuine need from being treated sooner.
More than 10 per cent of patients fail to turn up to their appointments at the dental clinic, something that irritates Jill almost as much as her dental pain.
"I am having difficulty eating, my gums are irritated and I am worried my rotten bottom teeth will lead to heart problems," she said.
"To find out that I could have been treated months ago is ridiculous.
"With so many patients disrespectfully missing their appointments, can't the clinic create a standby waiting list? I just think it's such a waste."
A spokesman for the North Coast Area Health Service said from January until September this year, out of 6906 adults who had appointments at the public dental clinic at Coffs Harbour, 959 did not arrive or notify of their intention to cancel.
In same period, 5286 children had appointments, of whom 749 failed to appear.
The North Coast Area Health Service yesterday would not release to the Advocate the number of people on the waiting list or the average waiting period for the public dental clinic at Coffs Harbour.
The spokesman said high social disadvantage on the North Coast and the lack of fluoridated public water supplies had resulted in significant oral health problems, which many people cannot afford to have treated.
"Eligible clients for public dental care are pensioners and healthcare card holders who total 65 per cent of the North Coast community, well above the state average," he said.
Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) director Andrew Johnson says the average waiting time for public dental services is 27 months and about 50,000 people are on waiting lists around Australia.
Mr Johnson said the Federal Government should step in and help fix the problem.
"With a large federal budget surplus, now is the time for more resources to be put into implementing a plan so people can fix their teeth when they need it," he said.
ACOSS has devised a new five-year strategy for the Federal Government to address the problems in dental health, costing $798 million per year.
It would include a comprehensive oral health check every two years for adults and children, an increased income limit for low-income healthcare cards and an assurance that no-one will wait longer than 24 hours for emergency dental care.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Tony Abbott said public dental care was not the Federal Government's responsibility.
She said the states and territories had failed to put enough money into public dental care for too long and people had a right to be angry about it.
Member for Coffs Harbour Andrew Fraser said money from the State Government would be the first step to fixing the public dental care system.
"There are people out there who are surviving on just mashed food. Financial assistance is needed to reduce the waiting list and give people confidence in public dental care again," he said.